Sunday, April 28, 2019

Joan Coxsedge's `Some Facts About Libya'--Part 3

Pharma 150 chemical plant in Rabta, Libya
 In  Part 3 of her 2018 book, Some Facts About Libya: How the West destroyed this once prosperous nation, long-time Australian antiwar and Latin American solidarity activist Joan Coxsedge--who is also a former member of the Victoria state parliament--recalls her 1989 visit to Libya in the following way:

Visiting Libya ten years later in 1989.

I returned to Libya in 1989 when it looked as if World War Three was about to break out. Washington had accused Libya of building a chemical weapons plant and was threatening to militarily destroy the country unless Qaddafi closed the plant down and allowed a US team to inspect the site. Based solely on US intelligence sources, Washington claimed with mounting hysteria that a satellite had pinpointed a construction site at Rabta, about 85 kilometers from Tripoli. We were assailed with a load of PR bull about Libya ‘threatening world peace’, which echoed around the world for most of January. Qaddafi continued to deny the charge.

Pressure from Washington was heating up and people became very nervous about the consequences for global stability. No one doubted the capacity of the US to carry out its threat. In 1986 US planes had bombed Tripoli and killed a number of people, including Qaddafi’s infant daughter. There was also deepening concern that President Reagan – already well away with Alzheimer’s disease – was about to vacate the White House with a literal bang. There was an added sense of urgency when two American F-14 Tomcat fighter pilots chanting ‘good kill, good kill’, shot down two Libyan MIG-23s over the Mediterranean, claiming self-defense. The Libyan pilots died.
Rather than waiting for something to happen, small groups from around the world traveled to Libya during that critical period to act as human shields to encourage some thoughtful talk. But once our media heard that a group of Australians were joining them they went feral, deciding for us in advance that our mission was solely concerned with passing judgement on Libya, to find it ‘guilty as charged’. We were also attacked for going to a country that was supposedly developing chemical and nuclear weapons, neglecting to mention that the nations they ardently supported – the US and Israel – had both in abundance.

We had many meetings with a variety of Libyans, the standout being our audience with their leader, Muammar Qaddafi. It took place in a large red, green and yellow Bedouin tent in the center of the Aziziya Barracks in Tripoli. Draped in a striking camel-colored mohair cloak, he talked of peace and that a genuine peace was not based on terrorism but based on love (tell that to the Yankees, I thought), and expressed surprise that the smear campaign against him had reached Australia. He believed that Australia should remain aloof from the imperialists – so did we – and expressed disappointment that bilateral agreements between us were sacrificed too readily considering that major programs of cooperation could be expanded.

In the General People’s Congress, we met Libya’s Deputy Prime Minister, Ibrahim Abukhazan, who also mentioned his desire to re-establish links with Australia. Libya had been forced into confrontation with the United States after its revolution, he said, and any genuine revolution would get the same reaction. Prior to 1969 all of Libya’s resources went to overseas capitalists, who used the country as a military base, with their political institutions getting their instructions from the British and American embassies. He believed Libya should be allowed to build new relationships, but the shock of its revolution was so profound that Western reaction remained one of undiluted hatred, despite its style of democracy being a consecration of what was aspired to in the West by Voltaire and the Rights of Man, but never realized because our governments got their orders from Washington.

We were eventually driven to Rabta, but only on the outskirts where a huge tent city had sprung up, not close enough to pass judgement on its function one way or another. We joined thousands of anxious people keeping vigil, singing and holding hands and praying for peace. The furor over Libya lasted for most of January, but collapsed with the end of Reagan’s presidency. A story buried on page 17 in the New York Times on 2 March 1990 – ignored by our own media – stated that White House officials had admitted that the Pharma 150 plant at Rabta was not going to manufacture chemical weapons after all, but was being ‘converted’ into a pharmaceutical plant. Which was precisely what the Libyans had been saying all along. 

Monday, April 15, 2019

`When They Jailed Elizabeth Gurley Flynn' lyrics

A biographical folk song about 20th-century U.S. labor movement organizer Elizabeth Gurley Flynn and the response of middle-class liberals and the ACLU to her imprisonment by U.S. government at Alderson federal prison in 1950s.

(verse 1)
When she was sixteen she spoke on a street by Broadway
And urged workers to fight for their freedom
Female equality in the early 20th-century
Could be won, she said, with socialism.
(verse 2)
She joined the Wobblies and fought to speak freely
And for "bread and roses" in Lawrence
Her Irish rebel spirit and words charismatic
Inspired Paterson strikers to risk arrests.

And where were the middle class women'
When they jailed Elizabeth Gurley Flynn?
They joined with anti-communist liberals
To lock her up in Alderson.

(verse 3)
Out West she visited Joe Hill's cell
And her inner and outer beauty sparked a song
And after Joe Hill's death she organized Workers Defense
Of thousands whose imprisonment was wrong.

(verse 4)
In her 40's and 50's she continued to speak out
Against capitalism, fascism and Cold War
And her newspaper column demanded working women rights
And that Jim Crow in the South not be ignored. (chorus)

(verse 5)
Yes, in her 60's she was jailed for "conspiracy"
And deprived of her civil liberties
Yet the ACLU she helped start as a youth
Failed to demand that she be freed. (chorus)

Friday, April 5, 2019

Joan Coxsedge's `Some Facts About Libya'--Part 2

Jamahiriya Museum in Libya
In  Part 2 of her 2018 book, Some Facts About Libya: How the West destroyed this once prosperous nation, long-time Australian antiwar and Latin American solidarity activist Joan Coxsedge--who is also a former member of the Victoria state parliament--recalls her 1979 visit to Libya in the following way:

Visiting Libya in 1979.

In 1979 I was invited to Libya to take part in a conference on Palestine with the moniker ‘The Conference of Tripoli on Imperialist, Zionist and Reactionary Scenes against the Arab Nation, the Danger of these Schemes to the Vital Interest of All Nations and to the Problems of Peace and Liberation all over the World’. Not the most popular subject in Australia, but of interest to me because I believed the Palestinians got a spectacularly rotten deal when the world salved its conscience by giving away their land after WW2. It took place six years after the Yom Kippur War, a year after the ‘Camp David Agreement’ and a year before the Israeli Knesset (parliament) passed a new law proclaiming Jerusalem the ‘eternal capital of Israel’. 

The conference was well organised and extraordinarily interesting. Security was tight, for good reason. Palestinian leaders with a price on their heads using aliases flew in from around the world. Many of their colleagues had been assassinated by Israeli hit squads.

Apart from Muammar Qaddafi who opened the conference, I met George Habash, head of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Vanessa Redgrave, the tall, strikingly handsome British actress. And we all rose to our feet to give a standing ovation of welcome to a delegation from the newly elected Sandinista government in Nicaragua, their debut on the international stage.

At the start of proceedings we were each given a copy of Qaddafi’s The Green Book, Libya’s answer to Mao’s Little Red Book, except the Libyan version was much longer. In it Qaddafi called parliamentary democracy a sham where voters ‘stand in long queues to cast their votes in ballot boxes in the same way as they throw other papers into the dustbin’. Quite a few would agree with that. He preferred direct popular participation in people’s congresses – a notion not too far removed from the slogan of Russia’s 1917 October Revolution, which called for ‘all power to the Soviets’ (local committees) – even though that slogan later bit the dust. On the second day, I gave a paper titled ‘The Impact of US Imperialism on Australia’.

 Thanks to a hostile media, I doubt if many would associate Libya with art and architecture, despite it being an archaeologist’s heaven back then. In the centuries before Christ, when Greek supremacy went down the drain after the sacking of Carthage and Corinth, Rome ruled the region for more than eight centuries before it lost control to the Arabs in the seventh century AD. Despite another thirteen hundred turbulent years, many of the ancient monuments survived. Western Libya in particular was richly endowed as I discovered during my tour of Sabratha and Leptis Magna, birthplace of Emperor Septimus Severus. 

I walked down streets where ruts from ancient chariot wheels were still visible and past the remains of houses where people had lived and worked until the end of the 4th or 5th century. I fingered grooves on a stone counter made by ancient butchers and fishmongers when they sharpened their massive knives and roamed in and out of small shops and stalls that had once sold spices and wines and goods made from leather.

But the building that took the cake was the ‘Hunting Baths’ whose domes and vaults had been buried under sand for fifteen centuries. Inside, a series of warm and hot rooms were lined with hollow tiles where hot air from the furnaces passed through, and most astonishing of all was the discovery that the 2000-year-old bathhouse still worked!

During my drive to Sabratha I stopped at the Jamahiriya Museum to look at its collection of priceless mosaics and worry whether these magical places and ancient artefacts have managed to survive the savagery and barbarism of the 21st century.